How Not to Kill a Movie Star – A.J. Jacobs Discovers the World of MOOCs

American journalist and author A.J. Jacobs is mostly known for putting himself through bizarre self-experiments. Jacobs spent a year living according to biblical rules and tried to become the smartest or healthiest person alive over the span of just a year. He also tried to outsource his whole life to his personal assistant in India, including marital disputes and reading bedtime stories to his children.

For his newest project the stunt journalist spent the last few months experimenting with eleven MOOCs at the same time.  He’s presenting the conclusion of his research on MOOCs in the New York Times article „Two Cheers for Web U!“.

Jacobs talks about Charles Darwin dolls, discussing economic inequality with Brazilian businessmen and a Japanese plan to assassinate movie star Charles Chaplin. The one thing he liked most about his classes, ranging from genetics over philosophy to cosmology: convenience and the option to tailor MOOCs to his learning behavior.

In keeping with the theme of higher education, Jacobs grades the MOOCs and their different aspects. The overall MOOC experience gets a B+ from Jacobs and he’s glad that he attended the courses. The advantages of MOOCS are obvious to him: They offer easy access to difficult topics and a convenient way for self-improvement and learning something new. And, to be able to take Harvard courses even if your home is in Senegal.   

What he didn’t like about the courses: The difficulty in American MOOCs to communicate with professors, who have to take care of thousands of students with just a small team. His advice: never try to become friends with the professor on Facebook.

Here at iversity, we agree that good communication between students and lecturers is one of the most important factors for a successful MOOC. Because of this, teacher-to-student communication is among the criteria for the jury of the MOOC Fellowship in evaluating the courses and awarding the fellowship.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of MOOCS and curious to make your own experiences, you can soon pre-enroll on iversity in the courses of the winners of the MOOC Fellowship. And if you’re interested in more of Jacobs work you can listen to him talk about his self-experiments on NPR.